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How Israel bypassed the signed Oslo Accord as if it didn’t ever existed?

By Jonathan Cook September 13, 2018

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do

Diana Buttu, Palestinian lawyer and former Palestinian Authority PA adviser

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993 (And Clinton?).

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists (Mostly Israel since Arafat was in total control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization).

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I , and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time , was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about re-organising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

Palestine, Israel and the Oslo Accords: What you need to know

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

(Actually, that was the second intifada. the first one occurred in 1935 during the British mandated period and lasted 3 years. England had to dispatch 100,000 troops to quell this mass civil disobedience. The Palestinians wanted municipal elections and England refused them this right on account that the Jews were minority, about 20%)

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA.

With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by Haaretz hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Settlers demonstrate in November 1993 against Oslo (AFP)

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, says the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon told MEE. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

Palestinians carry the bodies of dead worshippers killed by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron (AFP)

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski says Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis], rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

The demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, says Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” says Gordon.

Israel was able to bolster the settlement project… Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project

– Neve Gordon, politics professor at Ben Gurion University

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Illit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon says. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she says. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to a complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

On 12 September 1993, Yasser Arafat leaves Tunis for Oslo signing ceremony in Washington, DC (AFP)

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he says.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he says. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

They couldn’t move forward towards statehood because Israel blocked their way. But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either

– Asad Ghanem, politics professor at Haifa University

Ghanem says the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he says. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she says. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Yasser Arafat and Yitzahk Rabin shake hands for the first time at the Oslo signing ceremony on 13 September 1993 (AFP)

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object

– Diana Buttu, Palestinian lawyer and former PA adviser

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she says.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

 

The Assassination in Israel That Worked

The assassination two decades ago of Yitzhak Rabin, the warrior who became Israel’s peacemaking prime minister, has proved one of the most successful in history

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by his own Hindu fanatic

Rabin was killed by one of his own, a fanatical Jew who could not abide territorial compromise for peace.

Yigal Amir, the assassin, was a religious-nationalist follower of Baruch Goldstein, the American-born killer of 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron in 1994.

Kareem Shaheen shared this link

Vikram Seth, the novelist, has observed: “The great advantage of being a chosen people is that one can choose to decide who is unchosen.”

nytimes.com|By Roger Cohen

Reason ebbed. Rage flowed. The center eroded.

Messianic Zionism, of the kind that claims all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as God-given real estate, supplanted secular Zionism of the kind that believes in a state of laws.

An opportunistic right-wing politician named Benjamin Netanyahu, who had compared Rabin to Chamberlain, rose to power.

He may supplant David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but his legacy looks paltry beside the founding father of Israel (who masterminded the slaughter-hood  and chasing out of the Palestinians since 1935).

A warrior-peacemaker was lost to an assassin’s bullet in 1995.

A marketer fearmonger replaced him.

Leadership, in its serious sense, disappeared. Without leadership, every problem is insurmountable. With it, no problem is unsolvable.

It will soon be a half-century since Israel took control of the West Bank and backed the settlement movement that now sees several hundred thousand Jews living east of the Green Line, enjoying Israeli citizenship and various state handouts.

Why then has Israel not asserted its sovereignty over all territory and granted the vote and other democratic rights to all inhabitants?

The answer is simple: too many Palestinians. (The Zionist movement prohibited mandated Britain to have municipal elections in Palestine on the basis that the Jews barely constituted 20% of the population)

Asserting sovereignty would have meant the end of the Jewish state. Israel chose instead the undermining of its own democracy.

As Gershom Gorenberg has put it, Israel has “behaved as if the territories were part of Israel for the purpose of settlement, and under military occupation for the purpose of ruling the Palestinians.”

This policy is corrosive. No democracy is immune to running an undemocratic system on part of the land it controls.

Across the Green Line, millions of inhabitants are noncitizens. This is the combustible “one-state reality” of which Secretary of State John Kerry spoke this month.

The noncitizens are Israel’s colonized Palestinians.

Oppression and humiliation are hewn into the topography of the West Bank.

Israel, through the settlement movement, has undermined its Zionist founders’ commitment to a democratic state of laws. (That’s just western mis-representation propaganda of embellishing Zionism purposes)

Vikram Seth, the novelist, has observed: “The great advantage of being a chosen people is that one can choose to decide who is unchosen.”

The great disadvantage of Messianic Zionism is that it makes it impossible for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state. It makes violence inevitable.

Since October more than 20 Israelis and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in what some are calling a third intifada. This is the status quo. Three Gaza wars since 2008 are the status quo.

Israel today is a miracle of rapid development perched on the brittle foundation of occupation. Stabbings are the status quo.

The Palestinian leadership has been hopeless. It is divided. It is corrupt. It lacks democratic legitimacy.

It has wallowed in the comforting embrace of injustice rather than making the tough decisions to end it.

It has opted for theater over substance. It incites against Jews.

Time, as the last 67 years demonstrate, is not on the Palestinian side.

None of this annuls Palestinians’ right to a state called Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, nor the long-term interest of both sides in working to that end.

Rabin hated what Palestinians had done. (And the Palestinians and Arafat didn’t hate what Israel had done?)

Still, for Israel’s security, he chose peace.

The cornerstone of Israel’s United Nations-backed legality was territorial compromise, as envisaged in Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for two states, one Jewish, one Arab, in the Holy Land. This was humankind’s decision, not God’s. (The God-like decision in this partition is giving Israel prime land constituting 57%  when its population was barely 40%)

The covenant Jews bore around the world was a covenant of ethics, not a covenant granting Jews the hills of Judea and Samaria forever.

Its core is the idea that what is hateful to yourself should not be inflicted on your fellow human being. It must apply to the strong Jew of Israel as much as to the cowed Jew of the diaspora.

As the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz has recently chronicled, various U.S. entities and non-profit organizations, for which donations are tax-deductible, provide funding for the settler movement opposed by the United States government. (It cannot be true: the US did everything to facilitate transfer of funds to the settlements)

Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, summed up why this is unacceptable: “The government — and we, the public — are subsidizing an activity which undermines government policy.”

The Obama administration has understandably tired of providing the fig leaf of a “peace process” to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

But it can set down a marker by making public its view of a territorial compromise at or close to the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps. (Swapping is meant to delay any agreement indefinitely)

It can seek leverage in its opposition to settlement growth.

It can close American tax loopholes that benefit Israeli settlers.

It can try to make Rabin’s assassination a little less successful.

 

“Justice rendered” and “Grapes of wrath”: Books or military operations?

In July 1993, during Yitzhak Rabin PM, and April 1996 (Shimon Perez PM), Israel launched two devastating military operations into Lebanon, destroying all Lebanon infrastructure, hydraulic and electrical systems, roads, bridges…

Over 500,000 Lebanese civilians in south Lebanon had to flee their villages and towns, and hundreds were killed…

In 1993, Timor Goksel (UN  contingent spokesman) clarified the reason for the vast Israeli military operation called “Justice rendered”:  “Hezbollah (resistance movement against Israel occupation of south Lebanon) has managed to kill too many (relative to previous periods) Israeli soldiers in short lapse of time…Hezbollah was leading a resistance  very much within the rules of the game: Israeli soldiers for resistance fighters killed in engagements…”

In the decade 1983-93, for every Israeli civilian killed by obsolete Katiousha rockets, 30 Lebanese civilians were harvested by Israel shelling of towns and villages. Now, since Israel soldiers were being targeted, deadly and punitive military operations were the response.

Israel main objective was to pressure the State of Lebanon (its army) to restrain Hezbollah zeal for resisting occupation.  Israel know that Lebanon never enjoyed any valid central power to confront any faction, much less a resistance more heavily armed and supported by Iran in organization and funding.

The Israeli military propaganda was that Israel was equipped with the latest technologies to automatically locate incoming rockets and respond within seconds and destroy rockets before impact…Reality proved to be very different: Israel just applied random violence on Lebanese civilians… The question in the high command was: “How Israel army was to pulverize 54 Lebanese towns and villages bordering Israel and force the civilians to transfer northward?”

In 1993, and for 7 days and nights, Israel bombed and ruined 70 villages and destroyed Lebanon infrastructure.  Over 140 Lebanese civilians were killed, over  350,000 fled, and only 9 resistance fighters fell martyrs in retaliation for two dead Israeli civilians.

This time around, Israel was retaliating against Lebanese and Not against any “Palestinian terrorists“.  The internal political climate in Lebanon rallied around Hezbollah’s right to resist the occupiers.

The US of Clinton had to hurry to Damascus to strike a cease fire agreement with Hafez al Assad.  Hezbollah won politically: The US agreed to recognize Hezbolla’s rights to resist occupation: fighting is among fighters!  Three weeks later, Hezbollah killed 9 Israeli soldiers in a single day:  The July 1993 operation was supposedly in retaliation for 7 Israeli soldiers killed between 1985 and 1993.

In October 1994, Hezbollah climbed a mountain and planted its flag on an Israeli bunkers manned by 70 soldiers of the “elite” Givati: The Israeli soldiers dispersed haphazardly in the adjacent forests.

And this exploit was filmed by “embedded” Hezbollah cameramen who showed the document the same night on Hezbollah’s TV station “Al Manar“.  An instant hit story around the Arab world. This valiant operation by Hezbollah came in retaliation of the Israeli bunker in Dabcheh shelling the large town of Nabatieh and killing an entire two families.

The “Grapes of wrath”Israeli vast operation in April 1996 had for purpose to pressuring Syria to “restraining” Hezbollah and consequently to alienating Syria from Iran.

The operation lasted 17 days and nights: 500,000 Lebanese civilians fled, 165 were killed, 13 resistance fighters fell, and again all Lebanon infrastructure destroyed, to be rebuild for the nth time.

In this operation, the UN contingent in the town of Qana warned Israel of the existence of Lebanese civilians in their compound: Israel thus shelled the compound with 13 mortar shells of the 155 mm caliber and killed 102 civilians!  Lebanese totally backed Hezbollah and even “right wing and isolationist” Christians donated money and acclaimed Hezbollah.

The US of Clinton had to hustle back to Damascus for another cease-fire deal.  The French headed the negotiation and US Christopher had to bow down to the new agreement: Israel has no longer any “rights” to targeting Lebanese civilians.

Since 1996  operation, Hezbollah escalated its operations from 200 on average to 1,000 in 1998.  By 1999, the number of Hezbollah’s operations climbed to 1,500.  In 2000, Israel was forced to withdraw without negotiation or any preconditions.

In June 2006, Israel tried one more time with an operation that lasted 33 days with full backing of Bush Junior.

Israel lost the war and the political clout and is reduced to count Hezbollah as a true army and at par as a determined and efficient deterrence force to consider in any later operations.

Note 1: details taken from “A history of Lebanon” by David Hirst, correspondent in Lebanon and the Middle-East for 30 years

Note 2:  You may read on genesis of Hezbollah https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/part-1-genesis-of-hezbollah-in-lebanon-accounts-of-robert-fisk/

“Heading to Haifa: Want to see my home up close”: Who is Leila Khaled?

No, nothing is written for Leila, nothing is Maktoub for Laila: She will not die a refugee!

It is August 29, 1969.  Leila Khaled and her Palestinian comrade Salim Issawi, another refugee from Haifa, hijacked TWA 840 plane from Rome airport to Tel-Aviv as destination.  The purpose was to take Yitzhak Rabin prisoner and be tried in front of a Palestinian tribunal for crimes against humanity.  Rabin (Ambassador in the USA then) had missed the plane.

Leila and Salim are carrying hand grenades. The Captain and pilot tried several times to redirect the plane to Tripoli (Libya) where the US has a military base. Leila was trained to reading the gauges (the plane has enough autonomy for more than 5-hour flight), and she would correct the flight course.

Leila order the plane to El-Ladd airport.  The smart-ass pilot corrects Leila: “You mean Lod airport in Israel?” “No, it is al Ladd, a name known for millinea, and it is not this stupid Zionist State won’t change it”

Leila orders the pilot to descend at 12,000 feet.  The Israeli air traffic controller is summoned not to mention TWA 840 but call it PFLP, and he finally agreed to obey after the Captain warns him that there are 140 passengers on board.

The controller refuses the landing of the plane and two Israeli Mirage planes are accompanying the civilian plane to prevent it from descending below 12,000 feet.  Leila orders to resume the descent and the Mirage jets made room.

Without warning, Leila orders the pilot to head north to the city of Haifa: “I want to see my home from up close” said Leila.

The plane circled the city twice and was ordered to head to Damascus, where it landed softly. After the passengers exited safely, Leila blew up the cockpit of the plane, and surrendered to the Syrian police.

Three passengers were Israelis and were exchanged for 71 Syrian and Egyptian prisoners three months later.

Life was pleasant in Haifa before April 9, 1948, the 4th birthday of Leila Khaled.

Leila lived in a house on Stanton Street, by the Jewish quarter of Hadar Hacarmel.  On that date of 1949, the Palestinian family of Leila had to vacate the city and seek refuge in Lebanon: Israel has entered the city and 80,000 more Palestinians living in Haifa did the same trip.

The family settled in a camp in Tyre called Bourj al Chemali, where 7,000 Palestinians refugees from Haifa crowded it.  Since that date, Leila would refuse to celebrate her birthday, a day of mourning for her, the nakba for her family.

In 1958, Leila and her sister Nawal are sent to a boarding school in Saida, run by Evangelists, though a Moslem teacher made her memorize verses of the Coran, as Leila was learning to read.

In 1963, at the age of 19, Leila is attending the American University of Beirut (AUB):  Her brother Mohammad, working in Kuwait, paid her tuition.  Her father preferred to pay the tuition of her brother who failed his high school public exam.  Leila could not finish her university degree for lack of financial support and ended up in Kuwait in 1966.

Leila joins the Palestinian Resistance Movement, the main faction of Fateh.

Yasser Arafat is still not ready to train women for military exercises, and Leila tells him that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), headed by Georges Habash, trained both genders and sent them in active duties. She said: “We’ll meet again“, and went ahead and joined the PFLP.

It is September 6, 1970.  Leila does it again and hijacked the Israel El Al plane at the airport of Schiphol (Holland).  Her comrade is Patrick Arguello, originally from Guatemalla and run by dictator Somoza at the time. Patrick had no idea who was his companion boarding as his wife Maria Sanchez.

The attempt failed. Patrick is shot dead and Leila is interrogated by the British police. Leila endures 3 hours of interrogation and kept repeating: “I am the leader of the hijack.  My name is Leila Khaled and a member of the PFLP and from the unit of Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian woman prisoner“.

She declare that she want to be considered a prisoner of war.  Scotland Yard officer said: “England is not at war with the Palestinians”. And Leila replies: “Yes, England is at war with us since the declaration of the Balfour document in 1917, promising a homeland for the Jews, in return of a handful of silver coins to prosecute the war against Germany.  England carried out this promise, and is directly responsible for the displacement of million of Palestinians, robbing us from a State and inflicting humiliation, miseries, and indignity on us for decades.” (I developed a bit on that answer).

Four hours later, the officer returns and said: “Three more planes have been successfully hijacked and landed in the Zarka in Jordan.  They want your liberation in return of the passengers.”

In April 1996, Leila is crossing the Allenby Bridge to the West Bank.

A “peace” deal was struck between Rabin and Arafat in Oslo.  The Israeli soldier is interrogating Leila before crossing the border. Leila tells him: “Yes, I belong to a Palestinian organization, I do not agree with this peace deal, and yes I want peace with the Jews. My profession was hijacking Israeli planes. No, I don’t want this peace where I cannot return home without an Israeli soldier interrogating me. Remember young man: I am Leila Khaled.”

“We are refugees, we’ll die refugees” would frequently repeat Leila’s father.  No, nothing is written for Leila: She will not die a refugee. Leila is currently living In Amman (Jordan) by the Jordanian intelligence agency and is married with two kids. She is a member of the Palestinian National Council, and of the Palestinian Women General Union.

Note 1: Article inspired by a chapter of the French book “12 women of the Orient who changed History” by Gilbert Sinoue.

Note 2:  Leila Khaled published her autobiography “My people shall live” in 1973.

Note 3:  After the successive triple hijacking to Zarkat, the Jordanian Monarch Hussein chased out the Palestinian factions into Lebanon, and Lebanon witnessed three decades of bloodshed and calamities.


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